Well, Mad Men fans, it’s been over a year, but your wait is finally over—MM is finally back, having launched its fifth season premiere on Sunday night, a slow-moving, two-hour episode that eased us back into the world of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.  “A Little Kiss” takes us to Memorial Day 1966, wherein two collisions occur in this double-sized episode: that of the civil rights movement and the universe of SCDP, and the disastrous meeting of Don Draper’s personal and professional lives.  Check out our full review below.

The Players:

  • Director:  Jennifer Getzinger
  • Writers:  Matthew Weiner
  • Cast:  Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks

Episode Title: “A Little Kiss”

[Spoilers ahead!]

It’s Draper’s 40th birthday, which begins with Draper, his new wife Megan, and his children, having breakfast before the kids are dropped off with Draper’s ex-wife, Betty.  Before he leaves, Don’s son Bobby notes that by the time he is 40, Don will be dead.  Elsewhere, in the city, we see picketing and civil rights protests against the unfair hiring practices that discriminate against African Americans.  While the disenfranchised protest below, giggling white executives on the top floors of the high rises drop bags full of water on the protestors.

The episode slowly dips us back into the world of Mad Men, and we see that these characters’ lives have continued “in between” the seasons—Joan is dealing with the birth of her and Roger’s child, Roger is growing increasingly distant and aimless, Megan is now working in Creative, and Pete ambitiously vies for Roger’s position.

Meanwhile, Megan’s surprise birthday party for Draper ends in disaster when all of their coworkers visit the Drapers’ apartment to celebrate, making Don extremely uncomfortable.  Afterwards, he and Megan fight, ending with the reveal that Megan knows the secret about Don’s identity, and that he really turned 40 six months prior.  The episode ends with Don and Megan arriving to work and finding a large group of African Americans with résumés to work at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

The Good:

  • Race:  Long an issue only peripherally dealt with on Mad Men, it seems that Season Five will be the season to finally deal with the race issues and friction of the 1960s.  It also serves as a fitting metaphor for the changes that the lead characters must continually confront, as they struggle to control their worlds and lay down their vision of the world through advertising.
  • The Party/ The Song:  Watching Don squirm under the intersection of this public life and his very private, conflicted existence was the highlight and centerpiece of the episode, capped off with Megan performing the bizarre pop hit “Zou Bisou Bisou.”
  • Length/Pace:  Some are already complaining about the slow moving nature of the episode, and how long it took to finish, but hey—this Mad Men we’re talking about, not Sons of Anarchy (nothing against SoA, by the way).  The first episodes of MM are always slowly paced re-immersions into the damaged world of Don Draper, and it was nice to see creator Matthew Weiner taking a cue from his previous gig (The Sopranos) by offering up a cinematic and uncompromisingly paced episode that sets up the chessboard of themes and conflicts of Season Five.

The Bad:

  • Betty Francis (formerly Draper):  Of course, January Jones’ real-life pregnancy means that she’s basically a ghost in this episode (and likely the next few), but it just didn’t feel like Mad Men without its resident emotionally destructive queen.

Overall:

After a year off, almost anything would have been enjoyable last night.  The fact that we received an uncompromising, unflinching and, ultimately, artistically satisfying episode was the cherry on top.  Sure, it may have been slower than some had wished to see, but, as with all things Mad Men, it always starts of slow before it really begins to boil.

Rating:  9/10

Mad Men airs Sundays on AMC.